NEW DELHI – The second anniversary of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt was marked by riots in Tahrir Square that made many observers fear that their optimistic projections in 2011 had been dashed. Part of the problem is that expectations had been distorted by a metaphor that described events in short-run terms. If, instead of “Arab Spring,” we had spoken of “Arab revolutions,” we might have had more realistic expectations. Revolutions unfold over decades, not seasons or years.
Consider the French Revolution, which began in 1789. Who would have predicted that within a decade, an obscure Corsican soldier would lead French armies to the banks of the Nile, or that the Napoleonic Wars would disrupt Europe until 1815?